With Sing Street, Irish director/screenwriter John Carney builds on the musical journey he started in his beloved first film Once and continued in the underrated Begin Again, with delightful results. Like its predecessors, Sing Street — about a beleaguered Dublin teenager named Conor who starts a band in 1985 — revels not only in the artistry of songwriting but also in the mad joy that strikes us when a particular song plays at the perfect time and suddenly, wonderfully, becomes part of the fabric of our lives.
Carney is a musician, as well as a filmmaker — he played bass for the band The Frames in the early 1990s — and his love of music is evident in all of his films. Sing Street feels personal, as well as universal, and it captures the warring factions of youthful euphoria and despair. If you can remember or imagine being 15 years old and hearing In Between Days for the first time, this is your movie.
Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has good reason to feel out of sorts. His parents (Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aiden Gillen of Game of Thrones) are on the verge of splitting up. His dad’s out of work, and to save money they’re pulling Conor from his Jesuit school and sending him to a rougher, cheaper school, where bullying and black eyes are part of the curriculum.
For salvation, Conor turns to music, his tutor his pop-mad, university dropout brother (Jack Reynor), who extols the virtues of Duran Duran and music videos in general and can explain the contradictory concept of happy/sad music in two words (The Cure).
But there’s more resourcefulness in Conor than you might think. He starts a band for the reason most boys start bands: to impress a girl, in this case the pretty self-proclaimed model (Lucy Boynton) who hangs out across the street from the school every day. She agrees to be in a video. Thus Sing Street — named after Synge Street, where the kids go to school — is born. From there, the film follows Conor as he forms a band, makes friends, falls in love and finds himself on stage and off.
Carney’s other films also dealt with the joys of collaboration, the unnamed couple in Once falling in love while singing together, the singer and the producer in Begin Again bonding as they record an album in the streets of New York City. In Sing Street, Conor finds solace from his deteriorating home life through writing songs with his rabbit-obsessed friend Eamon (Mark McKenna) and practicing with the band. While the movie features a killer soundtrack from The Jam, M, Joe Jackson and The Cure, it also features original songs by Carney and Gary Clark, perfect New Romantic gems that would sound right at home on SiriusXM’s First Wave.
Carney gets everything right here: Sing Street hums with authenticity, though purists may gripe that Duran Duran’s Rio was released in late 1982 and wouldn’t have been on the BBC’s Top of the Pops in 1985. But that time hiccup doesn’t matter. When Conor excitedly demonstrates how singing through a vacuum hose can make you sound like The Buggles, you wonder if maybe Carney tried that himself at one point. Video may have killed the radio star, but music, Sing Street argues, will always let you know you’re alive.
Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton, Mark McKenna.
Writer-director: John Carney.
A Weinstein Company release. Running time: 105 minutes. Strong language, brief violence, drug use. In Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Gateway; in Palm Beach: Palace, Parisian.